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Man charged in Sunday morning shots fired incident

An Austin man police believe may have been agunman during a Sunday morning shots fired incident made his first appearance on Tuesday in Mower County District Court.

Eric Starnes Jr., 24

Eric Lamar Starnes Jr., 24, has been charged with felony second-degree assault – dangerous weapon.

According to the court complaint, officers responded to a report of shots being actively fired at 3:12 a.m. on Sunday in the 900 block of Third Avenue Northwest. An officer arrived in the area and saw numerous cars leaving. He recognized one of the vehicles, a 1997 Mercury Grand Marquis, as having been at the residence prior to the shooting. He also suspected that two of the other vehicles, a 2010 Chevrolet HHR and a 2008 Ford Focus, were at the scene during the shooting. He radioed the license plate numbers to dispatch and continued to the scene to check for victims and evidence.

Upon arrival, the officer witnessed several vehicles fleeing. He located several shell casings (9mm and .380 caliber) on the south side of Third Avenue Northwest, just west of the driveway to the residence. He also found glasses and jewelry in the road and alcohol containers on the ground.

The officer told the occupants of the residence to exit the residence immediately and, initially, no one complied. He waited for additional officers to arrive and then re-approached the residence to check the welfare of the occupants. Officers eventually made contact with the homeowner, an adult female, who brought several other occupants outside.

As other officers were interviewing the occupants, the officer spoke with a witness who was awakened by the loud party earlier in the morning and was unable to fall back asleep, so he went to his living room and watched television. He said shortly before he called 911, he heard a loud disturbance outside and then observed a large crowd of about 10-15 people in the yard and road in front of the residence. He indicated that two black male subjects then began to shoot handguns. He described one of the shooters as very short in stature and said that he believed the males fired approximately six shots before they ran to the south on Ninth Street Northwest.

Another witness told police that he heard a vehicle pull up outside and saw it was a light colored SUV. He said he then heard a female say, “There they are,” and then there were about six rapidly fired gunshots, after which the SUV fled to the west.

Police located several spent shell casings scattered in the roadway in front of the residence as well as some blood droplets on the driveway. An officer had dispatch contact the hospital in case a gunshot victim arrived.

An officer asked the group of subjects if they knew why officers were at the residence. The report states Starnes said, “Yeah, I heard. Yeah, I heard.” He then became confrontational with the officer while he spoke with other witnesses. All of the witnesses indicated that they knew nothing about the incident.

Police then maintained a perimeter until a search warrant was executed on the residence. While awaiting that warrant, a juvenile subject fled the scene and was apprehended hiding behind a parked vehicle in the 900 block of Second Avenue Northwest.

Austin Police Chief David McKichan said the juvenile, a 15-year-old male from Austin, was believed to be tied to the shooting.

McKichan said a search warrant was executed by the Austin/Mower Special Incident Response Team due to the believed presence of a handgun and an additional subject tied to the shooting inside the home. Police located 15-20 people inside the residence, including a runaway juvenile.

A 2006 Toyota Camry arrived on scene. Police spoke with the occupants and the driver stated that his car was shot while at the party. He said he was contacted by his brother, who wanted a ride from the party. He arrived and saw people fighting in the yard of the residence. He then said he was driving away and someone started shooting into the back of his vehicle. Once he was away from the area, he pulled over and observed bullet holes in his vehicle. He indicated he dropped his brother off and then returned to report the incident. An officer observed several bullet holes in the trunk area of the vehicle.

Another witness said he was in a vehicle driving away when he heard about eight gunshots. He said as he was getting into the car, a juvenile male pointed a pistol at him and his friends and said, “I’m going to kill you.” He said the juvenile then handed the pistol to another male, who began firing at them. He described the shooter as a black male, approximately 23-years-old, with a short beard and wearing a red hat, a red shirt, black pants and black shoes.

Upon hearing the description, a detective learned that it matched Starnes. Starnes was located inside the residence and taken into custody.

The witness looked at Starnes’s Facebook page and positively identified him as the shooter.

An officer was dispatched later in the day to the 900 block of Second Avenue Northwest after a man reported that he found a handgun in his neighbor’s driveway. The gun was a Smith and Wesson 9mm pistol. The officer ran the serial number and learned that the pistol was reported stolen in Freeborn County.

According to McKichan, the handgun was found at the same location identified as where the officers had found the juvenile hiding.

The case is still under investigation.

Starnes will appear in court again on Dec. 28.